Current Exhibition:

Resist with Love: The Xtopias of Solomon Enos Kūʻē me ke Aloha: Nā Xtopia a Solomon Enos

Kahu mālama ʻia na / Commissarié par / Curated by Skawennati
21 - 06 - 17 - 08  2024

Solomon Enos, Kū‘ē me ke aloha Resist with Love (2023)

Vast and Exuberant: The Futurist Imaginaries of Solomon Enos by Jason Lewis

“Aloha. My name is Solomon Enos. I am an artist, illustrator, and a game designer. And that's today. Tomorrow I might be a few other things. The day after that, I might be a few less things. [laughter] But very best way to put it is I'm a shape-shifter. In the most useful sense. [laughter]”

This is how Enos introduced himself in our 2017 interview. It still captures much of what I find provocative, entrancing, and joyous about his practice, a staggering volume of work across multiple media notable for its inventiveness, expansiveness, and generosity. He characterizes his practice as a conversation with his community in Hawai‘i that, among other things, seeks to create space to tell stories of the long past and even longer future of Kānaka Maoli. The works in Resist With Love: The Xtopias of Solomon Enos are but a small sample of his exuberant future imaginaries.

The exhibition features three works from Enos’ Akua AI series. ‘Akua’ is the ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi term that is often glossed (somewhat inadequately) as ‘god’ or ‘spirit’. In Hawaiian cosmology, the 40,000 akua have specific (if at times multitudinous) characteristics, roles, and spheres of activity. Whether making love, waging war, giving birth, or hunting for octopus, there is an akua who is responsible for—and responsive to—those activities.

Enos describes the Akua AI as experiments in “magical realism as ancient deities begin to upload themselves into digital realms to challenge the new gods of misinformation and greed.” These deities first come into being as Kānaka Maoli knowledge-keepers and scholars began digitizing the vast trove of Hawaiian-language newspapers published from 1834 to 1948. As the texts became part of cyberspace, the Hawaiian akua which they describe took shape in virtual space, adapting to its computational fabric. They develop Artificial Intelligence avatars who accompany Kānaka Maoli as they extend Hawaiian knowledge practices into this new territory.

Enos is a great lover of science fiction, and the Akua AI were inspired by William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Gibson coined the term ‘cyberspace’ in the first Sprawl novel, Neuromancer (1984). In the second, Count Zero (1986), he imagined a globe-spanning AI emerging out of cyberspace in the form of avatars modeled on the loa (spirits) of the Haitian Vodou tradition. The AI chooses these avatars to facilitate communication with its human creators across profound differences in cognitive apparatuses.

Enos draws on Gaiman to imagine how new gods come into being, old gods pass, and gods new and old migrate from one territory to another. In the novel American Gods (2001), Gaiman considers how gods require believers to exist, and thus their power waxes and wanes as the number of those believers—and the degree of their fervor—grows and diminishes. He imagines new gods spawning alongside new belief systems, such as those driving fantasies of American industrial-techno-media exceptionalism, as they come into being.

Enos’ Akua AI are old gods moving into new territory. Kāne is the akua of fresh water and light, and his AI avatar uses his ʻōʻō (pick-staff for finding water) to dig into the soil—the substrate—of cyberspace, bringing forth vitality and abundance to counter the rot instigated by the selfish techno-solutionism of Silicon Valley. Hina is the goddess of the moon, maternity, and making kapa (bark clothing), using her i‘e kuku (a grooved club for beating tough plant fibers smooth). The Hina AI’s i‘e kuku has 0s and 1s rather than grooves, and she uses it to beat the fabric of cyberspace to “rework the tapestry of the human story by disrupting the global and local communication networks of right-wing extremists, white supremacists, and all the forms that authoritarian dictators and demagogues take.” And, finally, Mo‘oinanea is the mother of all the mo‘o, the lizards who guard fresh water; mo‘o are also the storytellers. In cyberspace, data is the water that nourishes everything, and so the Mo‘oinanea AI tends to the quality of the information flowing through virtual spaces, fighting against misinformation and misuse of peoples’ personal data, while ensuring traditional mo‘olelo find their place in this new world and fresh mo‘olelo are created to respond to evolving realities.

Enos is opening discussions with his community about the great challenges of our time—like AI—in a Hawai‘i-rooted way. He hopes the Akua AI series will also inspire other Indigenous communities to bring their akua, or their ways of making sense of the world, into these new virtual-digital-computational territories. As he notes, “at times it seems our species knows more about building rockets than we know about what it means to be human”. At this moment, in 2024, we know much about building machines for extraction and exploitation. Perhaps Enos’ Akua AI can show us how to create them otherwise, such that we better know ourselves as we venture ever further into an ever-deepening ocean of bits.

UPCOMING Exhibition:

Ludovic Boney - September 2024

daphne operates on unceded lands. We are proud to be a part of this urban island territory, known as Tiohtià:ke by the Kanien’kehá:ka and as Mooniyang by the Anishinaabe, as it continues to be a rich gathering place for both Indigenous and other peoples.


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